Wrapping up their five game road trip at the WestStar Bank Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational, the UC Irvine men’s basketball team (6-9) were able to split their stay in El Paso with a loss to Akron (10-3) on Wednesday and a win over UTEP (2-9) on Thursday.
Last Wednesday, the ‘Eaters were downed by Mid-American Conference team Akron, 88-80, as the Zips shot 50 percent from the floor and converted on 15 three-point shots in the contest. The ‘Eaters themselves made an efficient 47 percent of their shots, outscored Akron 36-18 in points in the paint and outrebounded them 37-27, but they ultimately committed more turnovers (13-7) and came up short in their last minute rally to defend their title from a year ago.
Senior guard Jaron Martin, who received an all-tournament nod and the Big West Player of the Year honor for the second time this season, led UCI with 20 points and four assists. Pacing the ‘Eaters in the front court were senior center Ioannis Dimakopoulos and freshman center Brad Greene, who scored 15 (6-8 shooting) and 10 points respectively. Greene had a career night in both the scoring and rebounding department with his near double-double of 10 and nine.
Leading the Zips were the guard tandem of junior Antino Jackson and sophomore Josh Williams. Jackson registered a game best 23 points while Williams poured in 18 points, all from beyond the arc, of his own.
The ‘Eaters were able to withstand a three-point barrage (Akron hitting 10 in the period) and a closing 17-4 run by the Zips to only trail 42-20 after one half of play. Irvine hung in the game after falling down 11 with 5:30 left in the game behind a scoring burst by Martin to bring the ‘Eaters to within two down the stretch. Akron would ice the game on the free-throw line, however, by cashing in nine of 10 attempts to secure a win and end the ‘Eaters’ hopes of defending their tournament crown.
In the consolation game of the Invitational, the ‘Eaters faced UTEP and managed to win third place of the tournament with a 62-57 victory.
Martin once again topped the ‘Eaters in scoring with 22 points – converting on six of his ten three-pointers. The fourth year captain now has 146 triples for his career, placing him ninth in program history, surpassing Travis Souza and Scott Brooks, and behind Daman Starring (152).
Dimakopoulos earned a double-double against the Miners with 12 points and a career-high 11 rebounds. Freshman guard Eyassu Worku went eight for eight from the charity stripe and set a career-best with 11 points. The ‘Eater bench came to play against UTEP as they outscored the Miners’ second unit 22-3. Irvine dominated UTEP on the glass, 43-24, and put an end to a four game skid.
For the Miners, junior guard Omega Harris led with 19 points while senior guard Dominic Artis had 14 points and five rebounds.
The Miners held a five point lead halfway through the first half but the ‘Eaters clawed back with an 11-0 run and claimed a six point advantage with nearly seven minutes remaining in the period. UCI would come on top of numerous lead changes as a Worku jump-shot gave the ‘Eaters a 32-30 edge at halftime.
Martin came up huge in the second as he scored 17 of his points in the period (four from deep) and gave the ‘Eaters the lead for good at 44-38 under five minutes into the half. UTEP managed to cut the deficit to just two with 57 second remaining but Worku hit a clutch jumper with 29 seconds remaining to put them up four. Freshman guard Evan Leonard would seal the win for the ‘Eaters with four free throws in the closing seconds of the contest and secure a third place finish in El Paso.
UCI will finish up their nonconference slate of the 2016-2017 campaign as they return to the confines of the Bren Events Center and play Division II opponent Life Pacific on December 30th. In the following week, the ‘Eaters will host their start to conference play as they face preseason favorites Long Beach State (Jan. 4) and reigning Big West champions Hawai’i (Jan. 7) both to be televised through ESPN3 and Prime Ticket respectively.